White Paper | August 31, 2009

What Is pH, And How Is It Measured?

Source: Hach Company

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White Paper: What Is pH, And How Is It Measured?

By Frederick J. Kohlmann

Almost all processes containing water have a need for pH measurement. Most living things depend on a proper pH level to sustain life. All human beings and animals rely on internal mechanisms to maintain the pH level of their blood. The blood flowing through our veins must have a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. Exceeding this range by as little as one-tenth of a pH unit could prove fatal.

Almost all processes containing water have a need for pH measurement. Most living things depend on a proper pH level to sustain life. All human beings and animals rely on internal mechanisms to maintain the pH level of their blood. The blood flowing through our veins must have a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. Exceeding this range by as little as one-tenth of a pH unit could prove fatal. The pH of wastewater leaving manufacturing plants and wastewater purification plants, as well as potable water from municipal drinking water plants, must be within a specific pH "window" as set forth by local, state, or federal regulatory agencies. This value is typically between 5 and 9 pH, but can vary from area to area. Whether adjusting the pH for a proper reaction or making sure wastewater is at the proper pH value before sending it to the community sewer system, accurate pH measurement is required. Put simply, pH is an integral part of our everyday life.

pH is defined as the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration. This definition of pH was introduced in 1909 by the Danish biochemist, Soren Peter Lauritz Sorensen. It is expressed mathematically as:

pH = -log [H ]

where: [H ] is hydrogen ion concentration in mol/L

The pH value is an expression of the ratio of [H ] to [OH-] (hydroxide ion concentration). Hence, if the [H ] is greater than [OH-], the solution is acidic. Conversely, if the [OH-] is greater than the [H ], the solution is basic. At 7 pH, the ratio of [H ] to [OH-] is equal and, therefore, the solution is neutral. As shown in the equation below, pH is a logarithmic function. A change of one pH unit represents a 10-fold change in concentration of hydrogen ion.

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White Paper: What Is pH, And How Is It Measured?